Three Novels by Christina James – The Sandringham Mystery, The Canal Murders and The Heritage Murders – contemporary crime in a semi- rural Britain – The Fen Murder Mystery Series

The Sandringham Mystery, The Canal Murders and The Heritage Murders by Christina James

These three novels form a series of crime mysteries in which two police officers – Detective Tim Yates and Detective Juliet Armstrong – must pit their considerable wits against a varied and often dangerous range of criminals and crimes that beset South Lincolnshire. In a mixture of rural and town life there are unexpected challenges and difficulties to be confronted, often concealed motives and mysteries, as there are those whose ambitions and obsessions demand that the law is flouted in so many ways. In fraud and deception, greed and ill treatment, murder and theft, Yates, Armstrong and supporting cast of other officers and pathologists, forensics and other experts must find answers in difficult circumstances. Not that they solely exist to work; their partners and families will get drawn in to supply details and support or present challenges that are difficult to cope with for the busy officers. These are three novels which show so much – the development of careers that demand so much against a background of puzzling crimes. There is a huge cast of characters in each novel, realistic people with their own motivations and personalities however big or small their contributions prove to be in the progress of each story. These are intense and compelling stories, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review all three.

The Sandringham Mystery.

This novel opens with a narration from a strong-minded businessman Kevan de Vries. He is staying with his wife in his exclusive holiday home on St Lucia when he is disturbed by a request, indeed demand, to return to England. A discovery has been made in his large family home as the result of a break in which can not been explained. As this novel continues, we see how complicated Kevan’s life is – his wife is seriously ill, his son Archie, his business interests and his fears of what might be discovered. He has a difficult, to say the least, relationship with Tony Sentence, who appears to run his businesses daily, and who seems desperate to ingratiate himself with his boss despite the rather testy reaction he gets. Yates’ superior, Superintendent Thornton, has a keen eye for Kevan’s social standing, and as a result Yates and Armstrong are told to treat him with care. The situation becomes more complex as they make more discoveries at Laurieston about which Thornton has severe doubts. When a body is found in local woodlands everything becomes more urgent, and yet it is at this moment Armstrong is taken ill. With Yates having to depend on other officers and his partner, things become more complicated in so many ways. This is a carefully written novel that explores characters, even seemingly minor ones, with skilful attention. I found it an absorbing read which I recommend as the beginning of an engaging series.

The Canal Murders.

This second novel represents a change of gear for DI Tim Yates. He has spent a while trying to solve a series of crimes that are only linked by the fact that it is all agricultural machinery being taken. The area of operation is huge, and some very valuable machines have disappeared, including combine harvesters which crucial for a relatively short time each year, as well as quad bikes which are so ubiquitous in the rural area of South Lincolnshire. When wealthy and influential farmers start to put pressure on Thornton to act, he in turn orders Yates to get results.

Meanwhile in various parts of Lincolnshire women and girls are disappearing, and eventually bodies are discovered in a local canal. As Yates is drafted in to assist a beleaguered colleague in a nearby force, he recalls how this man has always been an irritant who has not changed his ways. Before long, however, there are developments which seen to suggest an uncomfortable pattern is emerging, and it seems to suggest that crimes are being copied from a previous killer. Some of the bodies are mutilated, and even a entire body is difficult to identify. As Yates, Armstrong and other officers desperately try to discover what is truly going on, the rural thefts must be investigated, and a new attack seems to break with the pattern. This novel is faster paced than the first, and seems to involve a more brutal killer, but James maintains her steady hold on her characters who are forced to operate on more fronts, at a potential risk to themselves in many ways. I found this book even more engaging than the first, as the victims of the killer are chosen, and two police forces seem baffled. Yates’ frustration over the rural crimes is understandable and the rural setting is well explored.

The Heritage Murders.

This third novel in the series features characters who appeared in the first book, most of whom have unresolved issues with events that occurred in and around Laurieston. As a fugitive hides in a place which has called him back, several people are concerned with trying to discover what really happened. A dissatisfied sister wants answers and pursues every avenue for information. She insists on seeing Yates early in the novel, and it seems that she will stop at nothing to get answers and indeed a potential financial windfall as it will change her life. Her involvement in the criminal activities which shaped much of the narrative in the first novel is perhaps indicative of what the police suspect, that something untoward continue. Armstrong discovers from sources closer to home that at least one old mystery has never been solved, and that it may have implications for a present situation.

Meanwhile a primary school teacher has concerns about a Traveller child in her class, alongside her remaining fear of a man who intruded on her previous life. As the stakes are raised in linked obsessions, Yates and Armstrong must try to find out what is truly going on behind the locked doors and closed curtains at Laurieston – and what has happened to another vanished woman. This book is a thoughtful examination of the aftermath of serious crimes, as well as current threats, and as such is a fascinating read that I enjoyed.

The author is going from strength to strength in these three novels, and I relished the development of the characters as they responded to new and often challenging events and situations. It has been a privilege to read all three books in a relatively short period of time and recommend this series to all who enjoy contemporary crime with well developed characters including police officers who emerge as real people in the face of challenges, as well as responding to the workplace conditions of today’s semi-rural settings.

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